Reef divers and skippers argue the value of sharks, dead or alive, for south coast tourism

2010-09-18 00:00

IT has been a week of mudslinging and wrangling in the fishing industry that has ended in a moral victory for conservationists and environmentalists on the south coast.

A group of charter boat fishermen had organised a weekend of big-game fishing from October 2 to fish for sharks. At least 60 boats had signed up for the event which would see them launch out of Shelly Beach and make their way to Protea Banks, where they would compete against each other in the shark fishing competition.

The proposed competition caused an outrage from locals, who expressed concern over the “slaughtering” of sharks.

The overwhelming support against the competition has resulted in its cancellation, but this does not mean that the controversy has gone away.

The Protea Banks reef plays a very important role in south coast tourism, with people from all over the world coming to dive with sharks at the world famous location. Many charter boat fishing companies, however, are concerned that the population of sharks in the area has been severely detrimental to the fishing trade.

Stefnie Fabricius, from Riptide Charters, was involved in compiling the list of fishermen who were keen to kill a shark.

“We battle to get people to pay to come out fishing with us because the sharks eat all the fish,” she said.

“We also lose hundreds of lures and lots of tackle to the sharks.”

The initial rules of the competition would have allowed the charter boats to catch, and kill, one shark each. If it had not been a competition, then each fishing license would have allowed the catching of 10 sharks.

After coming under increased scrutiny from the public, the rules of the event began to change.

By Tuesday afternoon, one of the event’s organisers, Johan Albrecht, said he was doing his utmost to try and make the competition a “tag and release”.

This was largely due to the uproar that the proposed competition had provoked from environmentalists. By Wednesday morning, Albrecht confirmed that the competition had been cancelled.

“I never knew that something like this would become so big,” said Albrecht. “A group of the guys who organised it got together and we decided not to go through with it.”

While this decision has calmed the unease for the moment, the problem has not gone away, says Michael Bertram, CEO of Ugu Tourism.

“We are very happy that common sense has prevailed and the competition has been cancelled,” he said. “But there are very valid comments from both sides and there is clearly discussion that needs to happen.” He hopes to facilitate a meeting on the matter in the next few weeks.

Roland Mauz, owner of African Dive Adventures — a company which takes people diving with sharks at Protea Banks — says the fishing out of sharks is totally unacceptable.

“The fishermen are understandably upset, but this doesn’t give them the right to fish out sharks,” he said.

“I have done the calculations and each shark is worth around R100 000 to tourism on the south coast, whereas a dead shark is worthless.

“Our main concern is the environmental impact; we already face the possibility of seeing the extinction of sharks in our lifetime.”

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